ashland.news
July 23, 2024

Ashland City Band has a new leader, new colors and some timeless traditions

City Band
Ashland’s four band conductors in June 2022. From left: Christi Lundahl (Ashland City Band), Jenifer Carstensen (Ashland Middle School band), Don Bieghler (former Ashland City Band conductor), Ivan Olinghouse (Ashland High School band). Peter Finkle photo
June 12, 2023

Christi Lundahl, the group’s first female conductor, promises some familiar works — and music that may be unknown to listeners

By Peter Finkle for Ashland.news

What’s new with the Ashland City Band in 2023? Big changes this year! To learn more, I spoke with Christi Lundahl, the band’s new conductor.

Guess the new City Band shirt color

The city band will have new color shirts this year. The board voted unanimously to update the teal color shirts band members have worn for the past 35 years. What color did they choose? Come to the City Band’s first concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 15, to find out!

With a history that stretches back to 1876, our city band has seen plenty of changes in instrumentation, size, uniform styles and colors. It began as a small Ashland Brass Band. After 1890, when Otis Helman was named the conductor, this band was also known as the “Helman Red Suit Band.” You wouldn’t know it from the black and white photos of the time, but you can guess what color their uniforms were. The band has dressed in black, in white, in red, in teal; they have been formal in dark suits, but are now in comfortable, summer-weather pants and polo shirts.

The community gathers for a Thursday evening concert in August 2022. This one was Don Bieghler’s final concert as City Band conductor. Peter Finkle photo
Passing the baton

Lundahl takes over this year from Don Bieghler, who was the City Band director for 25 years, a record. Lundahl is setting a record of her own: She is the first female director in the 147-year history of the band.

She and Bieghler have worked hard on the transition. Lundhl has been meeting with Bieghler monthly ever since she was chosen as the new director last August. He has shared dozens of spreadsheets and information packets that have allowed him to stay organized through his years of directing the band.

Lundahl laughed as she told me, “He is the most organized person I have ever met in my life.”

During their meetings, Bieghler was also full of stories to share about every member of the band: how many years they have played, or special pieces they performed in one of the concerts. As a result, the in-depth transition process has not only been smooth but also joyful.

“So much of the music written recently is fantastic — and I would love to expose our audiences to it,” Lundahl said.

Old traditions and new directions

Traditions like the 6:15 p.m. pre-concert music will continue this summer, with some fun new musicians. Lundahl invited the 7th Illinois Infantry Regimental Band, a surprising Southern Oregon music group, which will play Civil War Era music — in Civil War Era outfits — at one of the pre-concert shows. Another will feature a flute quartet playing popular tunes, also a first.

I asked Lundahl about her process for choosing music for this season. She replied, “When I start the process, I like to think of one anchor piece — one big, challenging piece that will be the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the concert.”

She then mixes in a variety of styles to keep the show interesting: up-tempo marches, show tunes, ’30s and ’40s big band music, a slow ballad or two. Don’t be surprised if Lundahl brings back some traditions from decades ago, such as audience sing-alongs.

The Ashland City Band will play nine Thursday evening concerts at the Lithia Park bandshell, from June 15 through Aug. 10. The band plays at 7 p.m., with pre-concert music beginning at 6:15 p.m. Bring a chair or blanket. Many people bring a picnic dinner. The Lions Club sells ice cream to raise funds for our school band programs. The City Band will also play in Lithia Park at noon on the Fourth of July, after the parade.

She added, “For this group, it is really important that we maintain the traditions of the wind band literature, so the audience will recognize some of the pieces they are familiar with. I’m thinking for each concert, along with all the old standards and favorites, I will find one really quality piece that the audience hasn’t heard of before, written by a living composer, perhaps of a more diverse background. So much of the music written recently is fantastic — and I would love to expose our audiences to it.”

Lundahl loves to teach conducting in her role as a university professor. That love does not stop when she walks off the campus into Lithia Park, where the Ashland City Band plays.

She explained, “I really want to encourage new conductors in front of the City Band as well, so I’m going to try to have a guest conductor for many of the concerts.”

Also new this year, look for the City Band to participate in more parades and community events. You might even hear a brass quintet or another subset of band members enlivening the Ashland Plaza with music on a summer evening.

“There will be many fresh young faces in the ensemble.”

An all-ages band

Lundahl explained that more SOU students will be part of the City Band this year because of her connections at the university.

People and their cars fill Lithia Park for an Ashland City Band concert in the 1920s. The original raised bandstand is on the right, where the Butler Bandshell is now located. The Lithia water gazebo is on the left, and it remains in the same spot. Photo from Southern Oregon Digital Archives at SOU Hannon Library

She enthusiastically added, “I love getting to see a student who is 18 years old, sitting next to someone in the band who’s 85. To see the interactions they have is incredible. For them to be making music together, all of us putting our best effort into making the best music we can, it’s really neat to be a part of.”

A final fun fact: Family members play together in Ashland City Band. There are husbands and wives. There are dads and sons. Lundahl surprised me when she added, “Actually, last year for the Fourth of July, my mom was visiting. She dusted off her flute and marched in the parade with the band. I never had a chance to play in a band with my mom before, so that was really fun.”

In 2022, Lundahl was a trumpet player in the band. This year, she will conduct the band into a new era.

For more on Lundahl’s background, see a prior article in Ashland. news by clicking here.

Peter Finkle writes about Ashland history, neighborhoods, public art and more. See WalkAshland.com for his Ashland stories.

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